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This is his third stage win. The powerful, do-it-all Belgian also won stages 1 and 4.
Race leader Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers) held a charging Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) to finish in second place and retain his overall race lead. He is now just four seconds ahead of van Aert and 21 seconds ahead of the world champion Alaphilippe.
“To be honest, I was quite happy with second today. I was on the limit and to be in a three-up sprint with Van Aert, second is not too bad,” Hayter said.
Cavendish in the breakaway
Sheltered by teammate Tim Declercq, Mark Cavendish (both Deceuninck-Quick-Step) was in a seven-man break that also included Rory Townsend and Jacob Scott (both Canyon dhb Sungod), George Bennett (Jumbo-Vismma), Dan McLay (Arkéa-Samsic), and Colin Joyce (Rally Cycling) at the front of the 198-kilometer stage from Carlisle to Gateshead.
Cavendish had not been in a successful breakaway since he won the British national road championships in 2013.
These seven worked well through 40km to go, sharing the work. Their maximum advantage had been nearly four minutes, but with less than an hour remaining of racing, the margin had been reduced to half of that.
Andre Greipel (Israel Start-Up Nation) pulled the peloton along, taking chunks of time out of Cav’s group up the road, until 35km to go when he “pulled the cord” on the day and dropped to the back of the peloton. His teammate and former world hour record holder Alex Dowsett took over pacemaking duties.
A series of small, rolling hills took their toll throughout the following 12km. Unhappy with the decline in pace, Bennett attacked at 21km to go, while McLay — who finished in third on the previous stage — was shed from the first group on the road.
Dowsett powers on
Dowsett, a superb time trialist, tapped a tempo at the front of the peloton the continued to chip away at the leaders’ advantage.
Cavendish did the math and determined that the break was fated to be caught and launched an attack just to soften up others’ legs. He was quickly marked by Bennett and brought back. On this move, Declercq went off the front, but he, too, was marked.
The pacing work done by Israel Start-Up Nation was effective at reeling in the breakaway at 14km to go.
Immediately after the catch, American Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar Team) and James Shaw (Trinity Racing) tried to get off the front. This move caused a split at the front when van Aert went after the two who had only gained a six-second gap.
Alaphilippe went after van Aert, and the world champion had the race leader in his shadow, along with an elite bunch who made this final split.
Alaphilippe tried to slip off the front at 11km to go but was immediately marked by Mikkel Frølich Honoré (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) who launched a countermove. Hayter and teammate Rodriguez were forced to cover a series of repeated short attacks, including a move by Dan Martin, who was able to get a few seconds gap before he was brought back.
With his teammate Martin back in the fold, Michael Woods countered. No one in the group wanted to chase and bring van Aert with them, and Woods established a maximum nine-second advantage that lasted through 3.5km to go when he was brought back.
The cat-and-mouse games continued through 1,500m to go and over the following 500m the ten on the front ceded a handful of seconds to the chasing peloton as they sized up each other.
Hayter moved toward the front and towed van Aert with him.
Honoré was first to open a late sprint, with Alaphilippe and Hayter instantly reacting.
Van Aert unmatched
Hayter still had van Aert on his wheel when Honoré faded, and Alaphilppe put his nose into the wind.
No one had the power to match van Aert when he kicked into full speed. The big Belgian went from three bike lengths back to two bike lengths up on the others and had time to sit up for a photo before he crossed the finish line.
Hayter held on for second, keeping his wheels ahead of Alaphilippe who finished in third place on the stage.
American Matteo Jorgenson for all his work in the final 15km netted a top-10 and finished in ninth on the stage.
Tour of Britain Stage 6 Results
- Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), at
- Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers), at s.t.
- Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), at s.t.
- Gonzalo Serrano (Movstar Team), at s.t.
- James Shaw (Ribble Weldtite), at s.t.
- Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation), at s.t.
- Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation), at s.t.
- Mikkel Frølich Honoré (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), at s.t.
- Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar Team), at :04
- Carlos Rodriguez (Ineos Grenadiers), at :04
Tour of Britain General Classification
- Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers), 22:53:32
- Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), at :04
- Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), at :21